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Apartheid in italian schools October 21, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, politics.
Tags: , , ,

That, in a nutshell, is the proposal of minister Mariastella Gelmini (Forza Italia), the young and energetic lawyer placed by Berlusconi at the helm of the Instruction. Gelmini is trying to pass a law which reduces personnel in public schools by 132,000 units, cutting in the flesh and blood of the schooling system, particularly in elementary and middle schools. High-school and university students are flooding all italian cities protesting against that plan, together with the plan of a reduction of funding to Universities (1.5 billion euros in five years) and the downsizing of research institutes.

The most outrageous proposal, however, is one that attempts to create “bridge classes” for children of immigrants. These separate classes, according to Gelmini, will ease the little rascals’ integration, addressing first their most urgent problems with the language. This will also improve the quality of teaching to italians by descent, who will not have to drag the ballast of children with understanding problems.

Gelmini and the right-wing government are defending the law against an uproar of disgust from the opposition, from the catholics, and from all civilized citizens who can still think without the help of a TV set. I think Gelmini and her crooks really overstepped the mark. They have a solid majority in both parliament chambers, but they will go down with this immoral, racist proposal. Or, at least, that is what I hope. Italians, unfortunately, still appear feel more threatened by the economy these days, and many do not feel they care a lot about such a degradation in the public school system. Berlusconi’s government is ranking very high in appreciation. I wonder what country Italy has become.


1. Luboš Motl - October 22, 2008

Tommaso, give me a break. The policy has clearly no racist goals – it is motivated by improved education and the argument they use is clearly correct.

Children who have problems with some basic things and have to learn them are obviously slowing down the other children’s learning in the classrooms. In fact, the native Italian children may become racists by seeing the immigrant children in the classroom – just because they look impossibly dense while the children don’t quite understand what the main reasons behind this fact are (they spent their infancy abroad).

This segregation to broad classes or schools according to how basic things have to be taught to the kids is always a good thing, also on the opposite end – classes for children with special talents are good ideas, too. These things optimize the time used for learning.

What you have written about this topic is just a hostile far-left mumbo jumbo propaganda based on prejudices, not a rational counter-argument. Incidentally, the minister is visually cute!

2. DB - October 22, 2008

This is a very interesting issue. On the face of it, to a naive observer, it makes sense to offer “bridge classes” to immigrant children who have not yet mastered the local language. Sure, sounds like a no brainer.
But you have to examine best international practice. The approach adopted by governments who are well-disposed towards immigrant children, is to offer such classes as a supplement to help such children integrate successfully, while ensuring in the meantime that these children are not segregated from the mainstream.
What you see in Italy is typical of a government which – like many of those who voted for it, I suspect – would really like to see the back of these immigrants. It offers lip service to the principle of integration but by its practice ensures that such children will find it harder than before to achieve this. They will be officially stigmatized.
Shame on them for subjecting innocent and vulnerable children to such degrading treatment.

3. Jeff - October 22, 2008

Tommaso. Keep it up!

4. Federico - October 22, 2008

If this move is pointed to improve education since immigrant children do not speak proper Italian, as said by some politicians and pointed by previous comments, I just wonder: will also local children that do not speak proper Italian be inserted in such classes?

This is not merely a provocation: a lot of Italians (adults and children… and teachers!) do not speak Italian any properly due to the strong influences of their dialects. This is especially noticed in southern Italy, but very easily seen all around Italy.

So: if this is done purely for improving the teaching situation why should it apply purely to immigrants? There should be an exam at school entrance and who doesn’t reach a level (be it Italian, white, black, purple, pink or too blonde) should be placed in this entrance classes.

I bet immigrants would be a minorance 🙂

5. Andrea Giammanco - October 22, 2008

The whole point, imho, is whether these classes are *alternative* or *supplementary* to normal classes.
I tend to think that alternative classes would bring a risk of segregation, although I admit that supplementary classes certainly have a few practical problems, e.g. finding new teachers: this would be clearly incompatible with cutting the number of teachers (which is what is also happening).

6. Fred - October 22, 2008


It would help if you could post the complete proposal of minister Mariastella Gelmini. Is this a package deal with the actions to be instituted simultaneously? Does it include the financial and logistical support as well as other necessary coordinated programs to influence a successful outcome? Will there be a mandated effort to keep the parents properly informed in a timely manner so that they may respond in kind? Ultimately, the heaviest burden should be on the students. They need to make an extra effort to demand responsible attitudes and actions from not only themselves but from the system which seeks to educate and mold their futures.

Lubos, DB, and Andrea all raise valid points. I attended 3 years of public schooling in Del Rio, Texas which borders Mexico. Each year I experienced a completely different situation interracially, scholastically and socially. 1st year – conditional integration, scholastic segregation, social integration. 2nd year – forced segregation, scholastic segregation, social segregation. 3rd year – forced integration, scholastic integration, social integration. The first two years were uneventful. The 3rd year was highlighted by racial tensions, student riots, police patrolling the campus, a noticeable decline in learning, scholastic achievement and attitudes towards the teachers as well as a 4 year old state of the art school suddenly looking like a hell hole. Ironically, I attended school with the same exact students during the 1st and 3rd years. The only thing that changed was the students attitudes towards each other during the one year of forced segregation which created an accelerated atmosphere of distrust. It had spread quicker than a prairie wildfire. Needless to say, the parents of both sides were active in fanning the flames. The public school system in Italy is headed for a long and bumpy ride.

7. Roberto - October 22, 2008

the argument is so clearly motivated by the desire to improve education that (just as an example) one of their loudest supporters declared in the past things like: “Everybody should join the pope in view of a modern Lepanto” or “The invasion of immigrants from Asia and Africa is a well laid-out plan, aimed […] at the distruction of Western civilization”. Of course now she claims to be moved by “the imploring eyes” of immigrant kids, “staring at the teacher as to declare: I don’t understand”.
And the objections raised by Tommaso are such “hostile far-left mumbo jumbo propaganda” that they were voiced in Italy, among others, by the catholic church – not exactly a leftist stronghold, these days.
Of course the essence of the proposal is the creation of separated classes, as opposed to complementary courses, which is the method used in most places (as correctly pointed out by DB) and partly followed in Italy up to now (even if often limited by lack of resources). The proposal is clearly an excuse for (again more) racist propaganda, and is far from being a coherent set, as questioned by Fred. And this in my view is its only positive aspect, since it will be very difficult to be put in practice, and as many other proposals in Italy it’s unlikely to be ever implemented.

8. dorigo - October 23, 2008

Lubos: the policy does not have any goal in particular, other than distracting the public opinion from the main topic in the political agenda concerning the italian schooling system: the cut of resources by 8 billion euros, the 132,000 layoffs, and the reduction of full-time for elementary schools. The fact that it has a racist flavour is only welcome from the center-right voters who feel threatened by immigrants: in particular, voters of Lega Nord.

DB has in fact got it right IMO.

Federico, that is a good point, underlining the fact that such measures were not really needed. There are already intensive courses of italian in schools.

Andrea, in fact this proposal has not specified any economic coverage. As happens for other proposals to continue full time in schools while cutting teachers, which demand to the school the economic coverage of babysitters in the afternoon…


9. dorigo - October 23, 2008

Hi Fred,

thank you for recalling for us your own experience. Well, I think Texas and Italy are different realities, but I understand your points. It may be utopian to think we can make things work without some amount of artificiality, but so far things have not been bad in Italy in this respect. For sure we do not need to put immigrants in different classes yet.

As for the law by Gelmini, I will see if I can find the whole text… I do not know if I have the time to search and translate though. Anybody out there who know a source available online ?

Cheers all,

10. Luboš Motl - October 26, 2008

Dear Roberto,

I am not disputing that people who don’t like immigrants, to put it mildly, are probably also supporting similar plans for their own reasons. That doesn’t mean that the plan is bad and that doesn’t mean that there are no universal reasons to support it.

You haven’t convinced me that your comments about the overall money for Italian education have anything to do with this plan. It is you, not them, who is distracting by linking things that have nothing to do with each other. You have not much to materially say about their project so you “gracefully” switch to a different topic, by saying that they try to hide one by another. I believe in Galileo’s principle of localization of a problem one investigates which is exactly what you want to avoid.

Anyone can switch from any topic to any other topic by making a similar exercise. I don’t think it is too rational. Tommaso: well, yes, center-right voters may feel threatened by immigrants. Have you ever tried to look at the world from their perspective? They’re pretty much pushing the motors of Italy ahead, allowing people like you to live from what they produce.

Best wishes

11. dorigo - October 28, 2008

Hi Lubos,

yes, I agree, immigrants are pushing the motors of Italy ahead, and they allow me to live from what they produce. I agree perfectly.


12. Alessandra - October 28, 2008

Oh, yes this “bridge classes” thing is the best way to make kids feel very integrated in the new school, in the new society, with italians.
I think it is just a coincidence that this proposal has been done by a party that is just a little razist.
Hmmm, i wonder if it would be better let the kids stay into a class with all the rest of students, so maybe they would get integrated for real. And maybe they should attend extra classes after school time table, where they could improve italian. Like in normal countries.
Oh, wait, i guess that after the budget cuts of Gelmini’s plan for a “better school” they won’t have money not even for ordinary classes….! Ops!

13. Roberto - October 29, 2008

Dear Lubos,
I wasn’t trying to distract.
In the first part of my comment, I was just answering to your following statement: “The policy has clearly no racist goals – it is motivated by improved education and the argument they use is clearly correct.” Now that you concede that people “who don’t like immigrants” support the plan to further their own agenda, I can only agree with you. With one small additional comment: they (Lega Nord, I mean) did not just support the plan, they proposed it in the first place.
Again, I agree with you that this in itself does not make the proposal good or bad. It just stinks a bit. If a well-known hunter comes out with a policy aimed at enhancing the probability for a rabbit to survive the hunting season, one naturally doubts about either the quality of the proposal or the sanity of the proponent (in the Lega Nord case, by the way, I think both are questionable…)

My point in the last part of my comment was that the proposal is just propaganda. The Lega guys know very well that most likely it will never be put in practice (like many others they did in the past). And the lack of funds is only one of the difficulties.
I had indeed a lot to say about their proposal, but I would have only repeated what DB had said in comment n.2. I’ll try to expand here a bit. The system he mentions (to integrate immigrants in normal classes, and give them additional language teaching) is the one used in many countries (among them in France, where I live). It works OK, and had been used with good results in Italy as well, wherever a local school had the means to provide additional teaching.
On the other hand, to put foreign children in separate classes is likely to slow down integration instead of favoring it. For sure, to separate them from Italian children would not help to improve their knowledge of Italian language, which is the declared aim of the policy itself.

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